Posts Tagged 'tandem'


A lot has happened since we’ve been away and not blogging on Honking in Traffic. Since the last post back in some distant dark ages, I have had a career change that has affected this blog in two ways – one, I’m not sitting at a lame, thankless desk job all day reading bicycle-interest news, and two, I no longer have the 20-mile bicycle commute to Chapel Hill that had often inspired these posts. (Now I have a 5-minute walk or 1-minute bike ride up to the little shop where I’m now a baker). The only sad casualty of this change is that we no longer have a long tandem commute together, and I have to kiss my sweetie good-bye for the entire day, or more usually, I’m up and baking long before she’s awake.

However, this is not the biggest change, nor the biggest news. The big news is that we are no longer planning a wedding, nor concocting ways to incorporate a tandem into the event, nor planning a tandem honeymoon. In fact, this tandem couple is now a married tandem couple. And we have just returned from the tandem honeymoon after riding away from the ceremony on our lovely new tandem, with a bicycle procession following. We’ll be posting stories and pictures from our two-week tandem tour of North Carolina. For now, here’s how the bicycle-related activities for the wedding went down.

In planning a spring wedding in North Carolina, we were pretty conservative when it came to weather. We chose indoor locations for the ceremony and reception afterward. Indeed, a good chance of rain and thunderstorms were in the forecast, much like any day here in May and June. The one chance we took was planning a bicycle procession following the ceremony. Regardless of the forecast, the sky was promising, so during the morning before the ceremony, my friend Trev and I rode two tandems out to the church and shuttled as many extra bicycles as we could round up for others to take part, while my bride was doing all those things a bride needs to do before a wedding – I just had to ride bikes and tie my tie.

Thankfully, the forecast rain held off, and the bicycle procession processed as planned. As we left the church, everyone sang “Daisy, a bicycle built for two.” I heard that this song may actually bode ill like an unlucky number, but it’s pretty and fitting and we sang it anyway. Last fall, I posted a query about what to do regarding my bride’s dress – how was she to ride a bike in the wedding dress? We received a lot of great advice, and ultimately she chose to change into a more bike-friendly outfit rather than wrestle with the bustle and risk getting it all messed it in the chains. As guests gathered around and blew bubbles, we led off the procession on the tandem. We had a four-mile ride through the southern Alamance countryside with more than a dozen friends. It was joyous and calm, and about the only time you’d see me without a helmet (but yes, I did change into my Sidis).

Of course, before we took off on our bike touring honeymoon, we had to fill our bellies with wedding cake, which in our case were classic New England “whoopie pies” which we baked ourselves:

Another element to our wedding was that rather than having a typical gift registry, we announced a “wishing well” for contributions to our new tandem and honeymoon. We had picked out a beautiful new Co-Motion Speedster at All Star Bicycles in Raleigh, and the contributions from our family and friends set us off right. It’s a substantial upgrade from the classic Burley Duet we’d been riding – much lighter, quicker handling, stable in all conditions, and a perfect investment for our future. Here’s me ready to take off on the trip, two weeks before today and without the funny tan lines:

We’ll be writing more about our experiences with it during the past two weeks of fully-loaded bike touring through the mountains of western North Carolina, but for now we’ve returned safely and happily and excited to keep riding together. Since this is a bike blog, I focused on the more bike-y aspects of our wedding event. It remains to say that the most important and affirming component of the wedding was the overwhelming love and support of our family and friends who attended and helped out. It was a bizarre feeling to have that much attention and affection focused on us, but we soaked it up and hope to give it back to our community over the coming years.


Tandem CX in Eugene

This is one reason why Eugene, OR will remain one radical pedal-stroke ahead of America’s Bicycle test kitchen Portland, OR, Eugene’s cloying, attention-sponge sister: Eugene, Oregon Set to debut Tandem Cyclocross World Championships

Tandem gems from Raleigh

For some reason, it’s not easy for us to get over to Raleigh. On the weekends, it seems we’re either bunkering up in the vicinity of Saxapahaw to enjoy great bike rides, and goat burgers from the General Store, or we’re escaping very far away, like last week’s trip to the Bay area. Raleigh, the dominant city in the region, seems to exist an uninteresting nomansland between near and far. It doesn’t have much to offer that Orange and Alamance Counties don’t already have, so if we’re going to make the effort to get over there, we may as well head straight to RDU and fly away.

Unless we’re talking tandems. There’s no shortage of great bicycle shops and experts in North Carolina – probably a testament to the diverse and extensive conditions for riding across the state – any state that can claim “mountains to the sea” deserves a leg up over the top tube. However, Raleigh seems to be the locus for tandem riding. Raleigh is home to the southern cuisine-themed riding club GRITS (Greater Raleigh Intrepid Tandem Society). The focus for the locus is All Star Bikes at Quail Corners. I’m still re-acquainting myself with my re-adopted state of NC, and while researching dealers to find the kind of high-end tandem we’re looking for for our wedding registry, I found out that All Star Bikes is the closest by a long shot. A trip to Raleigh finally seemed necessary.

The store location in a non-descript suburban strip mall in the uneasy mishmash of business and neighborhood developments of fast-growing north Raleigh is more a comment on the realities of Raleigh city planning than the shop itself. While there, we got to chat with their expert wrench Terry, and long-time sales guys Jeff and Neil. They sell Santana and Co-Motion, which is exactly what you’re hoping for when you’re looking for the highest quality production tandems.

We got to test ride a Co-Motion Speedster, which is only the exact tandem make and model I’ve pinned my dreams on since my first ride on a tandem (a Co-Motion Big Al) back in 2000. The differences between the good ol’ Burley Duet and the Speedster are just about night and day. First the similarities: they’re both steel; both handmade in Eugene, OR; both are tandems. There the similarities basically end. I’ve always enjoyed the functionality, serviceability, and smart details of the Burley. It’s handling is predictable, and even though on the chubby side, I’ve often felt its weight lends it an impressive gravity – when the road starts to point downhill, the momentum it generates makes it feel like a muscular train steaming across the vast expanses of the continent. What I didn’t realize is that I could feel the same confidence in a tandem, and still feel nimbleness similar to a quality single bike.

This is so with the CoMo Speedster. We got to test ride the tandem along residential streets that actually offered a couple of decent hills by which to gain a sense of its climbing prowess and the feel as it picked up speed downhill. We also got the blah attention-demanding surburban experience of dodging cars exiting driveways and sucking exhaust and debris belched from noxious leaf-blowers. The CoMo handled these challenges and grievances as easily as Gatsby navigates a cocktail party. The Speedster seriously is about 15lbs skinnier than the Duet, but gives nothing up in rigidity or surety. The handling is much sportier, turning with the ease of a Panamian drug-running boat, as opposed to a container ship turning miles in advance of an iceberg. Sure, components that are 15 years newer are also a nice upgrade, but the real advancement is the slick handling and smooth riding. A high performance machine, the steel Speedster is also ready for self-supported touring, with all the right rack and fender mounts. Alas, the only thing missing is a pump peg.

Back at the shop, we absorbed some good tips from Neil, a dedicated tandem-rider (owning a carbon Calfee), veteran racer, and salesman for 25 years. Here’s some new things we’re thinking about:
-Cornering technique: the stoker should slightly elevate off the saddle, lean into the turn, and keep weight on the lowered pedal on the outside of the turn (the pedal opposite the turn) to achieve the lowest center of gravity. Our first experience with this is that this move has to be smooth, natural, and unconscious, as the concerted effort by the stoker to force weight down on the pedal is more upsetting than we usually experience.
-Disc brakes versus drum brake on the tandem: disc brakes offer an upgrade in stopping power over rim brakes, but when it comes to long, steep downhills, they’ll fade out. I’m thinking rim brakes are the most sensible to run, adding a drum brake set up to drag with a friction shifter for the rides in the mountains.
-Contrary to popular thought, it doesn’t matter whether the heavier person is in the front (usually considered best practice) or the rear. I was thinking it makes sense to have the heavier person up front since that’s the fulcrum of steering. But our whippy salesperson Neil, who’s “130lbs soaking wet” claimed to have no problem riding with a 300lb stoker. As long as the stoker is a smooth pedaler and leans with the captain, it doesn’t matter at all.
-There’s two ways to start off on a tandem. This is news to me, since I have always done this by having the stoker mount the rear and push off and start pedaling at the same time as me. The other technique, supposedly to be used for less experienced stokers, is to have the stoker sit on the rear with both feet on the pedals while the captain balances the weight up front and pushes off himself when ready to go. Even though the later is supposedly good for inexperienced riders, I can’t imagine doing it like that. Stopping at a stop light and balancing the stoker who doesn’t put a leg down seems unlikely to me. Of course, on tandem, you do just about all you can to avoid ever having to stop and put a leg down.
-Take “butt breaks.” Who doesn’t like the sound of that?
-Cut-up old inner tubes are better than bungees cords.

The field trip to Raleigh was eye-opening for lots of reasons. Not the least of which, of course, is that we have identified the bike dealer for our dreamed-of wedding tandem. We also got some good tips on rides around North Carolina. As great as Saxapahaw is, it’s good to get out from time to time.

Stoker’s quiz

The stoker has unleashed a tandem quiz on y’all. Either I must not have been talking enough during our last ride, or she blocked out my blabbering to think this up. Enjoy!

Tandem Quiz: test your knowledge of the sport

1. What is it called when both people stand up on a tandem at the same time?
a) Stretching
b) Honking
c) Snorting
d) Unleavening

2. What public figures were voted “most unlikely to ride a tandem together” in the October 2009 Honker Awards*?
a) Dick Cheney and Noam Chomsky
b) Mike Tyson and Woody Allen
c) Mother Teresa and Michael Jackson
d) Vanilla Ice and Ice Cube
*This is a fictional competition, but the answer, the stoker swears, is still rational.

3. What is a stoker?
a) a reformed pyromaniac who also likes to cycle
b) the unfortunate person who sticks his fingers into the spokes of a wheel.
c) the person on the back of a tandem
d) the most enthusiastic person on the tandem

4. What is the most common misconception about tandems?
a) they are slow
b) the stoker is an opium addict
c) the stoker can take naps
d) they are divorce machines
e) all of the above

5. What is the greatest invention even created for tandem riders?
a) a jersey with a kindle fitted on the back
b) doublemint gum
c) drum brakes
d) water bottles
e) none of the above

6. What does tandem mean in Latin?
a) “progressive politics in sunny climes”
b) “finally”
c) “one after the other”
d) “run wild like ponies”

7. What is the greatest thing about tandem cycling?
a) crushing the competition
b) the stoker is free to text message, make calls, or fax documents
c) all the doughnuts you want
d) cars like you better
e) matching neon jackets
f) all of the above
e) nothing

*Bonus sing-a-long
8. What is the best song tandem song ever?

a) I want to ride my bicycle – Queen

b) Daisy (as performed by Blur)

c) You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore (Neil Diamond + Barbara Streisand)

1) b
2) c
3) b
4) e
5) c
6) b
7) f
8 ) c (this really is a burly Duet!)

Getting (hit) older together

When I met the other tandemists at the Durham Habitat ride, I realized that being a tandem couple automatically places us in a different age class. As with most other tandem pairs I’ve met, these two were probably 20 years our senior. I’m sure there are lots of dedicated tandem riders in their early 30’s like us, but my (admittedly small) sample puts us in the minority. Frankly, I’m happy to be in the company of couples that have years of experience navigating the roads, as well as years of experience navigating life together. Maybe it’ll rub off on us like a chain grease on your calf – or for my lovely stoker, on both calves, from the drive train on the right AND the timing chain on the left.

While I’m excited about growing older together with my betrothed, leaving us years to master honking, we may in fact be growing older together with the entire population of cyclists. I’m not a demographer, not even an amateur one, but a quick look at NHTSA’s recently published traffic safety stats for bicyclists, based on 2008 crash and fatality data, makes it look like cyclists as a population are actually getting older. [BTW, there’s lots of great public crash data available in these annual NHTSA reports]

Here’s the macabre statistics. Steadily since 1998, the average age of cyclists killed in traffic crashes has gone up.

bikes safety facts 2

At this point in my life, perhaps I should be comforted by the fact that I’m still under this average. But we’re gaining fast, unless that age keeps rising. I suppose this chart could indicate that younger cyclists are just becoming more skilled at earlier ages and are better at avoiding accidents. But no, I think these statistics must derive from exposure of all cyclists to traffic.

What this chart really says to me is a number of potential things: 1) people in the U.S. are bicycling longer into older age, 2) more Americans in their “working” years are choosing to commute to work by bicycle, 3) there are more cyclists of all ages riding bicycles now, including older adults (those over 30) riding more and riding into later years, or 4) there are less young people choosing to ride bicycles. I’d like to think that all of these possibilities are actually positive indications, except for the very last one. NHTSA’s Federal Highway Administration should be putting the finishing touches on the National Household Travel Survey, due out in January 2010, which should illuminate these numbers.

Also evident in the 2008 numbers is that fatalities for “pedalcyclists” (that is bicyclists plus other 1- to n-wheeled machines operated under human power) is the only category other than motorcyclists that saw an increase in fatalities. Again, I think this must mean that there are just more people choosing to ride bikes these days. At least more older people, maybe those who ride tandems… (gulp).

Anniversary, Or our first century together

My honey and I celebrated what we consider our one-year anniversary yesterday by participating in the same event we did last year when we got together. We rode the Habitat for Humanity Halloween century ride in Durham. Since it was Halloween, we decided to dress up as nerdy, matching, tandem bicycle riders:


Fantastically gaudy matching jerseys - a must for any tandem couple.

We somehow fit the length of the tandem into the back of my old Honda wagon, tying down the rear hatch. This meant that we were directly inhaling exhaust in the car, a pretty nauseating way to wake up. The air was heavy with mist alternating with rain, but at least it was warm. The mood at Durham Bulls Ballpark where the rode started and finished was upbeat among the couple hundred riders despite the thickening rain. I think people get excited by the upcoming challenge, and by the presence of so many other riders, and probably get off even more on all of the bikes and gear to check out (I get off on sweet bikes as much as the next lycra’d guy, and was pretty excited to see a gorgeous randonnuer-style bike hand-built by a local builder called Coho Bikes). There was even a couple of fun Halloween costumes among the riders – a Calvin and Hobbes pair, and a woman with a pink machine gun who somehow rode atop her clipless road pedals in high-heels.

We identified the two other two tandem pairs before we departed. Among us we had the notable west coast tandem builders covered – Burley (us), Santana, and a lovely Co-Motion Speedster with couplers and disc brakes – just a little drool-inducing. I have to say that, my bike lust notwithstanding, we performed quite well on the old Burley Duet.

I love any reason to ride as long as possible, and an organized century is as good a reason as any – perhaps better, as it has an air of collective excitement. I personally like riding long days like century rides because so much happens over the long expanse of time. It feels like a novel with many chapters, a large cast of characters, recurring themes, highs and lows, many changes of place and scenery. Here’s a few reasons to ride an organized century:

1. Another reason to ride a bike.
2. Explore new roads. Tired of the same old loop? Join a ride and get a map to miles and miles of bike-friendly (one hopes) road you never knew about. This route brought us along quite rural roads northwest of the city of Durham, through Durham, Person and Granville counties, and through hills much more challenging (and therefore in my opinion, more rewarding) than the roads I normally ride in adjacent counties.
3. See other cyclists. Cycling can be a lonely pursuit, as all it really needs is one rider, one bike, and some free time. Seeing hundreds of other cyclists is reassuring to me in that there’s proof that what I choose to do isn’t so unusual and that car-culture isn’t solely dominant.
4. Challenging yourself. Riding 100 miles, or any length much longer than you’re used to, is hard, but then it wouldn’t an accomplishment if it wasn’t hard.
5. Benefit rides raise money for good causes.

Reasons to ride a century on a tandem:
1. Six hours closely connected to your partner. At least, this works out for us, since we still seem to be in that honeymoon phase, and expect it to last long after the actual honeymoon.
2. Share the pain and effort.
3. Sing-alongs make the miles tick off.
4. Tandems are a conversation piece. I have a tandem blog, so I obviously already enjoy talking about tandeming. On a ride with hundreds of other people, I get to talk about it a lot.

I’ve personally done a few organized centuries, and few 100-mile days while touring, but never have I ridden 100 miles on a tandem. I am proud to say that we finished the whole thing together in good spirits, despite the rain of the first 50 miles, and the dubious shape of our legs after a few sparse weeks of biking before the event. I had no doubt that we could do it, but it’s still gratifying to have it behind us, and also to have the memories that accumulated throughout the day. It was my partner’s first century (we did the 60-mile route last year), and thus her first tandem century, too. I’m optimistic that the experience will also elicit her first blog post here on Honking In Traffic.

For now, I’ll leave you with the tandem at rest against the coolest bike rack in Durham:


Firsts (I)

A weekend trip to the mountains of western North Carolina and Tennessee resulted in a break in the mostly regular blog entries here. Alas no biking, but it was a gorgeous weekend to drive and hike in the Appalachains as the trees are just starting to turn color, the apple orchards are full of fruit, and the cool weather energized my sled-dog of a dog who’s not built for the usual warmth of the Piedmont. We also got to see interesting sights like this:

The Dollar General Lee.

The Dollar General Lee.

I’ve seen plenty of the stars and bars flying around the south – even in a few yards near my cottage in Alamance County – but this is the first time of I’ve seen a proud citizen towing it around in a pickup truck. This person realizes for a me a certain caricature some of us have built up about southerns (full disclosure, I’m from Maine).

There are plenty of other firsts that I’m more interested in experiencing than startling new expressions of inveterate racism. In terms of this blog, I’m excited about a number of firsts that will come with more tandem riding with my honey. In a way, it’s like I get a whole new set of bicycle firsts that I may have already surpassed as a single bicyclist over the years, plus ones I still haven’t foreseen as single- or tandem-rider.

One of my great loves is long-distance, self-supported bicycle touring. That’s a pretty nerdy, earnest title of a vocation. If I were the BikesnobNYC, I’d dub it LDSSBT, and my touring bicycle shown below would be the perfect antithesis of his Ironic Orange Julius city bike – a completely earnest Orange Barrel Monster.

Completely earnest cycle tourist + Orange Barrel Monster bicycle

Completely earnest cycle tourist + Orange Barrel Monster bicycle

We are starting to plan our “honeymoon,” and this hopefully includes tandem touring in exotic lands. Though we both want the same thing – the experience of exploring a fascinating place by bicycle and eating the hell out of incredible food – we still need to do a first tour together to try it out as a tandem couple. My partner has yet to experience this aspect of bicycling, that is touring. And though I think of myself as already having a lot of experience in the pursuit (that is me after all at the top of Independence Pass after 5 weeks of touring, though what you don’t see is that I was wearing every stitch of extra clothing I was carrying since, in all my “wisdom” I’d shipped home all my warmer clothes earlier in the trip when I was hot and too fatigued to lug the extra weight up the steep hills back east when I first started out) I don’t have any experience in bicycle touring as part of a tandem couple, which is surely to throw in new challenges, decisions, and compromises.

Driving around in the mountains this weekend brought back a lot of my favorite memories of past bikes tours. I love riding the mountains. I feel that the burn of long slow miles up grueling grades (especially in Appalachia) is more than rewarded by long views, big sky, sharp air, and electrifying descents. Whereas tandeming perfectly expresses how I feel about bikes socially, riding in the mountains is the full realization of the physical elements of cycling (not to mention it’s the full realization of all 30 gears of my drivetrain).

As I waxed enthusiastic about mountain riding and repeatedly expressed my desire to experience it by tandem, I realized my partner was not whole-heartedly with me. She has not been touring, nor has she been riding in the serious mountains before on a bicycle, much less on a tandem. (Indeed, mountains are “serious”, much like my touring bike is “earnest”). What occurred to me as we were discussing touring and dreaming out loud about future trips and our “honeymoon”, was that what seemed to me like a natural destination for a bicycle trip – the “serious” mountains – was not so welcoming to my honey. In fact, it was a little stressful, and thus not really how one wants to spend a “honeymoon.” I guess if you haven’t ridden through the mountains, they can be intimidating, even forbidding. Furthermore, no matter what kind of assurance I can provide, nor description of the elation and grandeur I feel riding there, can mollify the concerns of someone who hasn’t done it before.

"Serious" mountains.

This brings up a few important points for me. One is that, even if I have ridden through certain places and feel comfortable doing so, I haven’t done so on a tandem. I can tell you that one essential tactic for remaining comfortable on long climbs – standing up on the pedals, i.e. “honking” – will need to be mastered to a much higher degree than we currently have, not to mention other challenges to handling.

Second, I have to force myself to remember that when I first set out to go over my first few mountain passes, I was kept awake the nights before with frets and anxious dreams – heck, that photo of me atop Independence Pass came after years of experience, and that day was my third in a row crossing the Continental Divide, and I still couldn’t sleep the night before. And nothing was more frightening or awkward than attempting to handle descents from tree-line, knitting steep ridges with hairpin switchbacks. (At least with the tandem, I’ll be thankful for the drum brake).

Finally, bicycling, as it is commonly experienced – indeed what seems to make the very basis of how most of us come to know biking – is intimately individual. As with me trying and failing above to convince my partner that riding in the mountains will be “just the most fun ever”, “no problem”, “exhilarating”, and “not any harder going up, just a lot slower”, we as riders will only believe what we’ve experienced and then taken from that experience as individuals. Even, I suspect, if that experience occurs while riding on tandem. True, there may be some skills and techniques unique to tandem riding, but the essential substance of cycling – the plodding, the spinning, the burn in the thigh, the sore from the saddle, the mind-games employed to keep it all going – is personal.

A lot of us ride in groups, maybe train as teams, even the rare few of us ride tandems, but I’m willing to bet that the default condition of cycling is riding alone: just you and the bicycle, there when you want to ride, it’s there as it always has been since you were doing huffy stops in your driveway as a kid, no need for complicated plans with a group. Plus, if most of your riding is done commuting, you’re probably going to your workplace alone, as all those Single-Occupancy-Vehicles cluttering our nation’s roads attest. Even when riding in groups, you alone deal with your personal pain, and push yourself to accomplish individual goals.

Perhaps this perception of individuality is actually magnified by the tandem, and is potentially what gives it the rep as the “divorce machine.” As a partner on a tandem, I have to remind myself that the person I am linked to, and whose experience I am affecting with every exertion and adjustment I make, is personally coming to terms with the conditions of the bike ride in a completely unique way from me – and is acting on my experience, too – even though we are on the very same bike ride.

As we’re stretched across that hard saddle, hunched over the bars, squinting into the wind, we cyclists make realizations about riding, and tend to extrapolate metaphors for life from the exertions we endure. That we as cyclists by and large strike upon the same realizations – the subject of a future blog post – only proves my point that cycling is intensely personal, because we have to find out for ourselves what those realizations are. No one can tell us first.